Dave Smith asked me earlier today on Twitter, "What's OC's take on spec work?"
Here's my over 140 character response.
We don't do spec work for two main reasons:
1.) Part of our process includes a good amount of time put into research. This research includes getting to know the company and the people in the company. This allows us to deliver the best solution from a message, marketing, design, and functional stand point. You aren't allowed this research and get to know you time with spec work. All you can go on is what you think people might like. Making decisions on blind guesses is not a good business process.
If a company is interested in seeing if we have the chops. We have a past projects section.
2.) We can only charge for the hours we spend working. If we give those hours away for free then when do we make money. On top of that, Bill Masters (former owner of Perception kayaks) once said he never gave away a kayak for free because free has no value. That stuck with me.
If you're young and trying to make a name for yourself I'd suggest doing amazing work for small companies with small budgets. That way you get real world experience and get to nail down a process of working with clients that you can use for the rest of your life.
Doing spec work doesn't help you grow as a business person. Learning how to talk to a customer, learning what they need, and delivering a product for those needs is a real key to business. If you are just doing imaginary work that you hope people will like you'll never grow and learn this process.
PS: You can follow me on Twitter.com/agautsc